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Six months later, I still say it’s better to think with your head than your tire iron

A few months ago our managing editor Adam Ledlow wrote a blog about the aftermath from the gruesome killing of 22-year old Tim McLean on a Greyhound bus in Manitoba. Although some time has passed since then, I’m sure the horrid details of that killing — McLean was stabbed dozens of times by his murderer Vincent Li and then beheaded him in full view of the bus load of horrified people – have ensured that it will long remain in our memory.
As you will recall, long haul trucker Christopher Alguire became an overnight hero when after noticing trouble on the bus, he managed to corral many of the passengers to a safe location and then helped barricade the door to prevent the suspect from escaping. Heroic deeds indeed, I absolutely agree.
However, Alguire couldn’t let it end there. Soon after he was criticizing the RCMP for not shooting and killing the suspect after the fact. In his own words: “I told the cops a few different times to shoot him, because he has no reason in this world to live anymore.” Now that made him even more of a hero in the eyes of many. And when Adam took trucker Alguire to task over his heated words, pointing out police are trained to deal with such situations and a “shoot first and ask questions later” approach is not part of their training and that someone trained as a professional driver, no matter how heroic his initial actions, has no place trying to act as “judge, jury and executioner”, he received a number of vitriolic responses from readers.
“The punishment should fit the crime- a life for a life. Then maybe, just maybe some might think twice before they commit some of the atrocities that we read about everyday,” said one reader. “Shame on you for causing even a sliver of doubt towards the integrity of a hero,” chastised another. Yet another stated: “What this country needs is more Mr. Alguires! Truckers who are eager to lend their tire iron at the first glimpse of carnage.”
Things got worse when I joined the fray with a blog arguing that we should choose our “heroes” more carefully. I reasoned that I if one takes the time to really think about it, rather than speak from emotion, although Alguire’s willingness to help was certainly heroic, his criticism of the RCMP’s action was shameful. And so were the remarks of those who supported his views. I received several phone calls from readers who had a few let’s say “choice” words in response. My remarks showed I was “too left”, too naïve”, “too weak-kneed”, “too quick to defend murderers”, and a few more descriptions best not repeated here. I also received the usual thinly veiled racist comments about the incident (“We should send him back to where he came from and let them finish him off.”)
More than six months have passed since that gruesome event and the killer Vincent Li has since appeared in court and found not criminally responsible because of a severe mental illness. Psychiatrists testified at his trial that he was suffering from schizophrenia and believed the voice of God ordered him to kill Tim McLean because the young man was a source of evil. In other words, Vincent Li is a very sick man. His first words in court were “Please kill me.” A criminal review board will now determine how he will be institutionalized. As long as he remains dangerous due to his illness, he will likely be locked away for the rest of his life. Of course, many thought this was a sham and thought our legal system once again favored the criminals over the victims.
What happened to Tim McLean was both unfortunate and tragic. Neither he nor his family deserved such a horrible fate. But six months removed from the emotion behind the incident, I still think my comments at the time make the most sense.
While I understand that most in that situation, myself included, caught in the emotion of the event, would have wanted to pull the trigger, becoming a society of vigilante justice will not make us safer. We employ professionally trained police officers to handle such situations without emotion that clouds judgement and we should allow them to do their job.
This is not being weak, as many claim it to be. This is not protecting the criminals rather than the victims. This is being reasonable. This is thinking with your head instead of your hormones and tire iron. Would it have been better, as many had suggested back then, to shoot Vincent Li as an act of revenge? (his victim was already dead, killing him would have only stopped the dismemberment of Tim McLean). Would it have been better to shoot first and find out later we had shot someone suffering from a mental illness?
I know many of you will disagree with me, but I’m sticking with my initial stance on this.

Lou Smyrlis

Lou Smyrlis

With more than 25 years of experience reporting on transportation issues, Lou is one of the more recognizable personalities in the industry. An award-winning writer well known for his insightful writing and meticulous market analysis, he is a leading authority on industry trends and statistics.
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7 Comments » for Six months later, I still say it’s better to think with your head than your tire iron
  1. Terry larose says:

    Hi Lou,
    I have to admit that when this horrific insident came to light I was with the majority that would have been satisfied to see Mr Li done away with. Now that some time has passed I find myself looking at this quite differently. First and foremost in my mind is what sane person would do something like this. To commit murder in cold blood is one thing, to dismember and then consume some of these parts even going as far as saving pieces for who knows what is another. No, Mr Li has proven that he really does need help and as you say should he not recover chances are he will never be free for the rest of his life. Where is the sham in that.
    Thank You

  2. Robert D. Scheper says:

    I’m the guy who stated “Shame on you for causing even a sliver of doubt towards the integrity of a hero,”
    The response still stands! You and your associates attacked Mr. Alquire and called into question the honor of a man who acted in the defense of society. It was uncalled for. Mr. Alquire must be advanced all the mercies afforded someone who was forced to pass through such a trauma. Picking on him because his emotional response wasn’t “politically correct” is an outrage to human dignity and honor. It discourages real men from doing their civil duty of protecting citizens from harm.
    If you seen a house burning and you knew there was someone in it, would you stand on the sidewalk and think your only moral duty was to call the fire department? That’s what’s wrong with society, the gradual relinquishing of personal moral obligations by systematic delegation and journalistic fear mongering.
    If a trucker comes across an accident and sees an unconscious person buckled in a sinking vehicle should their only concern be to call the authorities and stand around “watching someone drown?” Then, if they do something will journalists pounce all over them because they didn’t respond “politically correct?”
    Criticizing or making fun of a driver who is emotionally traumatized is unconscionable. It is irresponsible journalism (bloging), writing that seeks to breed a society of cowards.
    I was at a truck stop a couple weeks ago and walked through the lounge. They had a Cop show on. Video’s where cops were physically defending themselves against enraged drivers. In a room full of truck drivers virtually all were at the edge of their seats rooting for the cop to shoot a guy. It ws like a cheering section at the Stanley cup. None were musing the “political correctness” of the event. One guy stated (amazingly)“… give me two minutes to get my tire iron..”. The lounge smiled, chuckled and hummed in universal support and agreement.
    Mr. Smyth, not only is your priorities and opinions ill placed they are ill placed in an industry that overwhelmingly disagrees with you, at least for now. However, keep writing articles maybe truckers will eventually cower in fear to get involved because of possibly offending someone.

  3. Lou Smyrlis says:

    Robert: You’ve completely missed the point. Or perhaps you simply don’t want to see the point. For the record, yet again, the point I was trying to make with my blog is that if police just went in guns ablazing, like Mr. Alguire wanted them to, then they would have shot a man who is obviously insane. Is that the kind of society you prefer to live in? Should we turn the clock back several hundred years then and have justice at the point of a sword? Heck, a few hundred years ago, they probably would have burned alive a man as insane as Mr. Li, thinking he was possessed by the devil.
    Let’s call a spade a spade. Our industry, despite the many professional, hard working people in it, is not exactly the darling of the mainstream media or the public. Examples such as the one you give of a room full of truckers hooting and hollering “for the cop to shoot the guy” and not giving a damn about “the political correctness of the event” is exactly what perpetuates such stereotypes in the media and amongst the public. And I think the many people in this industry who don’t think with their tire irons first deserve much better than to be painted with that paint brush.

  4. Penny says:

    the entire problem with that situation was the non-response of the rcmp.
    The truck driver is perfectly allowed to express his opinion and after seeing what he saw is it really any wonder
    “We employ professionally trained police officers to handle such situations without emotion that clouds judgement and we should allow them to do their job.”
    and yet they did nothing.
    they, how many officers???? stood outside of the bus for nearly 5 hours, ARMED, and only acted when Vince Li jumped out of the bus, then they tased him
    Your right they could not have saved the young man’s life, but they could have prevented his body from being defiled.
    But they did not enter the bus armed with their weapons and even attempt to restrain this man.
    I am not advocating the killing of Vince Li, but, tasing and or restraining him would have been a better way to go.
    I am appalled at how no one is questioning the rcmp role in this mess/

  5. Robert D. Scheper says:

    Three points: first Penny’s input/response reflects a great deal of the mainstream industry thought and opinion. People were frustrated by the INACTION of the police in this situation and even brought up the OVERACTION incident in the Vancouver airport. This outrage originates from the natural human desire to seek justice.
    Secondly, related to the first, Mr. Alquire’s response that the cops should shoot the guy comes from that very same natural desire to seek justice. Pouncing all over him did not afford him his basic human right to express his natural desire. It did not allow him ANY latitude to express his desire within the context of his trauma. If a survivor of a plane crash publicly denounces the use of aircraft, will the media pounce all over them for their irrational antiquated belief’s? Presumably no! But if a hero who acts in the best interest of society, to the best of his ability, reacts or states something “politically incorrect” media conjures their own lynching party. SHAME!
    The desire to “shoot the guy” or “pick up a tire iron” is a natural desire within the very fiber of human nature. The verbal expression of that desire is our fundamental human right! It expresses our need to have a just society. Without THAT society would revert back hundreds of years to the point of a sword. Freedom of speech is one of the foundations of societal advancement.
    Third and final point is a response to your statement “Let’s call a spade a spade. Our industry, despite the many professional, hard working people in it, is not exactly the darling of the mainstream media or the public.”
    My point is, SO WHAT! Who assumes society wants to be the darling of “the mainstream media”? Who assumes the main stream media is the authority on human nature, justice, equality or even compassion (other than the mainstream media of course)? If the mainstream media is bursting with radical political correctness police who then holds THEM accountable? If political correctness focuses on people’s feelings or institutional “order” at the expense of societal justice who then will speak for the victims of atrocities?
    The pen is mightier than the sword. What philosophical difference is there when mainstream media points their politically correct sword at the throat of individuals and pounces “get back in line… your natural human desire for justice means nothing compared to the power of my pen”?

  6. Steve MacDonald says:

    You need to understand that at the time the truck driver’s (Mr. Alquire) adrenaline was running high and he was involved in a extremely upsetting situation the police were not quickly solving.
    In this generation we are seeing more violence, gang shootings, murder, drugs, breakins, etc. every day. 40 years ago when I was 15 you hardly heard of or seen this type of behaviour.
    Most people are tired of the violence that is showing up in everyday society. Then with the courts just slapping hands and letting them out a multitude of times. When we see the inactive or inability of the police to do anything about it it adds more anger. Drug people, alcholics,gang members,etc seem to be getting away with crimes and murders under the diguise of illness. Remember that society did not make them do drugs, alchohol, join gangs, these were their choices. The mentally handicaped where thrown out to the streets by our government which added to the situation, these people should still be protected and taken care of. What is the answer? I myself do not know, I know what I feel and sometimes it is just like the trucker hero……….

  7. David Dudgeon says:

    I don’t remember what my response was to your column a few months back. I do know i am somewhat in agreement with you now. Mr. Alguire said what he did that night while in a state of shock. A month went by before the media put enough preasure on him to speak about the incident. He had time to think about what he was going to say and could have said nothing about begging the police to shoot Mr. Li. He may have used what people term the actions of a hero when aiding the bus driver on that night but he certainly did not back those up with words when being interviewed by the media. In my opinion true heroism would have been to either say nothing or simply state that he is glad nobody else was injured.
    I think the police did as they should have under the circumstances and ensured Mr. Li was brought to trial without further escalation of the incident. I don’t believe they did this unfeelingly as they are human and no amount of training will cause you not to feel. Maybe they are the heroes for using sound judgement in a situation that was horrific enough to force many good men to lose control of mind as well as bodily functions.
    I also agree that it is not only a poor reflection on all of us for a group of full grown men and women too be sitting cheering for a policeman to shoot a suspect on the tv the way that situation was described but it is also in poor taste. It is time to clean up our image and return some pride to the industry. Tank you.

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